Iraq: Turkey attacks Kurds

By Vivek Thiagarajan
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

On Saturday, the Turkish military claimed that it inflicted “significant loses” on the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).  (CNN)  The military claimed to have killed 50-60 Turkish rebels inside Iraq.  The Turkish military did not state whether it had used the American intelligence that President Bush had promised.  However, an unnamed PKK military official has claimed that no attack occurred.

Since early fall Turkey has threatened to attack the PKK in Iraq, which is a Kurdish militia seeking to gain independence from the Turkey.  In the past few months, the PKK increased its attacks on the Turkish military.  The constant attacks caused the Turkish government to act in order to respond to the building pressure by its public demanding justice for the troops that were killed.

Turkey immediately mobilized its troops to the Iraqi border, because it believed that the PKK rebels had attacked in Turkey and then fled to a base in northern Iraq.  However, the Turkish government showed reluctance to attack and physically invade Iraq.  Although, the military received immediate support from the parliament to launch an attack Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gul were hesitant to attack.

Their hesitancy was both justified and wise because launching an invasion into Iraq could both destabilize the region and Turkey.  The Iraqi region has been destabilized since the downfall of Saddam Hussein.  However, the northern region under the control of the Kurds and President Barzani has remained stable, because of their embrace of the Americans.  However, Turkey has chosen not to recognize Barzani as the official voice of the Kurdish people.  This is probably because the Turks fear that if Barzani is recognized as the official voice for the Kurds, then it may encourage the PKK to continue their struggle so that they may ultimately be recognized as the spokesmen for the 15 million Kurds in Turkey.  Additionally, the Turks have been hesitant to enter Iraq to pursue the PKK, because they understand that with the transient nature of the PKK.  It is possible that killing the current PKK members  may only increase the militia’s enrollment by angering more Kurds within Turkey and encouraging them to join the cause.

These limited attacks will only be successful for the Turkish government, as long as it does not lead to a full scale invasion.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera- Turkey ‘right to intervene in Iraq’- 2 December 2007

BBC News- Turkish army fires on PKK in Iraq- 1 December 2007

CNN (AP)-  Turkey attacks Kurd rebels in Iraq- 1 December 2007

Gulf News- Kurdish officials deny Turkish incursion into Iraq- 2 December 2007

Impunity Watch- Tension Mounts between Turkey and Iran against Kurdish militia in Iraq- 28 October 2007

Impunity Watch-Turkey: Military may pursue PKK into Iraq- 11 October 2007

Increase in Israeli Strikes against Gaza

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

Gaza – In the past week, Israeli military operations have killed about 20 people, mostly militants.  Most recently, on December 4, a missile strike targeting a training base for Hamas’ armed wing in southern Gaza.  According to Palestinian medical workers, two militants were killed and two others were wounded in the strike.

On December 2, an air strike killed five members of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, near the Khan Younis.  According to Hamas, the men were on night patrol and were 500 meters from the border.  However, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) states that the strikes were triggered when an armored unit spotted a mortar launching team near the border.  During this incident, at least three men were also injured.  Some of the injured were members of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), a smaller militant group allied to Hamas.

Also on December 2, Gaza medics report that one individual was killed and three others wounded in an incident east of Gaza City.  Residents recall hearing gunfire in the area.  The Israeli military stated that troops returned fire when Palestinian gunmen opened fire.

In addition to increased military strikes inside Gaza, on November 30, the Israeli Supreme Court held that Israel could impose fuel cuts but had to postpone planned electricity cuts.  Israel’s highest court agreed that there was no need to issue a stay on the fuel cuts, especially since the government took measures to ensure that fuel delivery to Gaza’s only power plant would be maintained.

However, while the court ruled that the Israeli government took measures to ensure that the reductions do not cause humanitarian harm.  Several hospitals in Gaza report dangerously low fuel supplies, which are required to run generators, threaten their ability to provide Palestinians with medical care.

Israel seeks to use these sanctions as a less lethal method to combat rocket attacks launched from Gaza.  In recent years, Israel has been faced with the difficult question of how to efficiently combat the persistent rocket fire from Gaza.  On December 3, IDF reports that three soldiers were lightly wounded by shrapnel from a mortar shell fired from Gaza.  During the same attack, three other mortars were launched, but no causalities resulted.  Also, earlier on December 3, fifteen other mortar shells were fired from Gaza, but again, no causalities resulted.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Israel hits Gaza amid fuel fears – 3 December 2007

Jerusalem Post – Gaza: At least four gunmen  killed by IDF – 3 December 2007

Reuters – Two Hamas militants killed in Gaza air strike, medics say – 3 December 2007

Al Jazeera – Deaths in Israeli attack on Gaza – 1 December 2007

BBC – Five killed in Israeli Gaza raids – 1 December 2007

Reuters – Six Palestinians, including militants, killed in Gaza – 1 December 2007

Al Jazeera – Israeli court backs Gaza fuel cuts – 30 November 2007

UPDATE: Teacher Pardoned in Sudan

KHARTOUM, Sudan – Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher jailed in Sudan last week for naming a class teddy bear Muhammad, was freed this morning after serving four of her fifteen day sentence.  The crime under Sudan’s Islamic Sharia law could have resulted in punishment of up to 40 public lashes, six months in prison, and a fine. 

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir pardoned Gibbons after a meeting this morning with two British Muslims from the House of Lords.   A senior presidential adviser said al-Bashir insisted that Ms. Gibbons received a “fair trial” but that she was pardoned as a result of efforts by the British Muslim delegation.

Ms. Gibbons had been in custody for a total of eight days and was transferred to the British embassy in Khartoum.  In a statement made this morning, Ms. Gibbons said “I have great respect for the Islamic religion and would not knowingly offend anyone and I am sorry if I caused any distress.”   

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Teddy row teacher freed from jail – 3 December 2007

Guardian Unlimited – Briton Pardoned in Sudan Islam Insult – 3 December 2007

BRIEF: Possible Pardon in Sudan’s Bear-Naming Case

KHARTOUM, Sudan – Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will meet with a British delegation on Monday to discuss a possible pardon for the teacher imprisoned in Sudan for allowing her students to name a teddy bear Muhammad.   

Gillian Gibbons was sentenced on Thursday to 15 days in jail and subsequent deportation for insulting Islam.  The following day hundreds of people protested what they viewed as a lenient sentence for a crime that can carry a punishment of up to six months in prison and 40 public lashings.  Following the demonstrations, Gibbons was transferred to a new secret location. 

The influential Council of Islamic Scholars in Sudan have protested a release of Gibbons, saying it would “wound the sensibilities of Muslims in Sudan.”  “If the government retracts this judgment … this would be a very bad precedent and it would have very bad consequences on the reputation of the state … not only in Sudan but also outside Sudan” said Council Spokesman al-Sheikh Mohammad Abdel Karim. 

For more information, please see:

International Herald Tribune – Sudan’s president to discuss possible pardon in bear-naming case – 2 December 2007

Guardian Unlimited – Teddy row peers to meet president – 2 December 2007

Christian Science Monitor – Teddy Trouble: Hopes Rise for British Teacher Jailed in Sudan – 2 December 2007

Canada.com – U.K. lawmakers to meet Sudan president over teacher – 2 December 2007

BRIEF: Border Deadline Ends

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Last night the border deadline passed between Ethiopia and Eritrea. For several months, both Ethiopia and Eritrea have accused the other of violating the 2002 border resolution which ended the 1999-2000 war that took the lives of roughly 70,000 people. The United Nation decision granted the disputed town of Badme to Eritrea. The terms of the resolution required that the countries physically mark the boundary by the end of this month or the International Boundary Commission would draw it on maps themselves and let it stand.

As of last night, neither side agreed to an altered border decision. Therefore the commission issued a statement that the 2002 border it set “continues as the only valid legal description of the boundary”. The commission is now dissolved but a United Nations peacekeeping force (UNMEE) of 1,700 troops will remain in the area until 2008 since both sides have armed troops positioned in the demilitarized buffer zone.

The United Nations and the United States have urged both sides to exercise restraint and remain calm during these tense moments.

For more information please see:

BBC – Eritrea- Ethiopia Deadline Expires – 30 November 2007

Yahoo News – Ethiopia, Eritrea Can’t Agree on Border – 30 November 2007

Egypt Police Jailed 7 Years for Torture Death

By Kevin Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt – In what appears to be growing government intolerance of police brutality, an Egyptian court sentenced four policemen for up to seven years for beating a man to death during interrogation. The sentence comes after two other police brutality cases in November that sparked widespread media coverage and discussion.

The four police personnel, including a captain and an informant, were jailed by the criminal court in the northern Nile Delta town of Mansoura in a hearing that lasted more than 10 hours. Three of the accused officers, including the captain, received seven years. The informant received a three-year term.

The defendants were convicted of beating a carpenter, Nasr Abdullah, 38, to death in July by banging his head against the wall in order to extract information about the location of his brother who is a suspect in a drug case. Afterwards, the news of his death provoked angry demonstrations from villagers.

Earlier this month, two policemen were sentenced to three years each in prison for sodomizing a bus driver with a stick at a police station in Cairo. The sexual assault was filmed and leaked to the Internet, appearing on the popular video-sharing Web site YouTube.

Two days later, another man was found dead in the streets of Giza after sustaining injuries from torture by the police for three days.

The seven year prison sentences handed out to the four men Tuesday is unprecedented in light of the fact that many of these allegations in the past went unpunished and accused often enjoyed near-impunity. “This is the longest sentence heard of in the last 10 years,” said Gasser Abdel Razak, the Mid-East representative of the US-based organization Human Rights Watch. But he warned that Tuesday’s harsh sentence was more likely the result of one activist judge rather than a change of heart on the part of the government.

For more information please see:

BBC News – Egypt police jailed for killing – 28 November 2007

International Herald Tribune – Egypt police given unprecedented harsh 7 year prison sentences in torture death – 28 November 2007

Voice of America – Egyptian police jailed four officers in torture case – 28 November 2007

Jurist – Egypt police officers sentences to 7 years for torture death – 28 November 2007

BRIEF: No Justice for Rape Survivors in Uganda

KAMPALA, Uganda – Amnesty International released a report yesterday accusing Uganda’s justice system of “tacitly condoning and protecting suspected perpetrators” of rape and other sexual abuses against women and girls in the north.  Most victims do not report crimes due to a fear of intimidation, hostility, and ridicule from the community, as well as state inaction in granting redress. 

Amnesty International says the northern area of Uganda has a “culture of impunity” surrounding rape cases.  “Many women and girls in northern Uganda suffer sexual and gender-based violence committed by state actors, including official authorities and military officers, and non-state actors within the family and community.”  While the government was commended for establishing a functional justice system, the report called for more action regarding violence against women. 

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Ugandan justice ‘fails on rape’ – 30 November 2007

AFP – War ebbs but rape still rife in Uganda – 30 November 2007

AllAfrica.com – Uganda: Sexual Abuse Survivors in North Denied Justice – 30 November 2007

VOA News – Amnesty Accuses Northern Ugandan Authorities of Failing Women – 30 November 2007